Guily as Cell
Andrew kept lifting his cellular from his shorts’ pocket.
“I’m gonna drown that thing one of these days,” Jorge said, casting a line into the murky lake.
Andrew sneered. After hooking a frozen shrimp and sending it into the water, he belched obnoxiously.
“Dude, you’re scaring the fish away.”
Jorge burped even louder. “That’s what I think of your damn phone.”
Andrew glanced down at the screen and jumped, smiling. “I almost missed this,” he said, displaying the kissy face emoticon. A gust of wind blew his brown hair into his eyes. He shook his head so he could see again.
Puckering up, Jorge played like he was trying to plant one on his friend.
Andrew pushed him away. “Let’s go. I’m gonna be late.”
They packed up the fishing gear.
Taking off his sunglasses and looking at himself in the rear view mirror, Andrew noticed stark white skin around his eyes. The rest of his face was warm.
“Man, you’re gonna get there looking like a freakin’ raccoon on your big night,” Jorge said.
For a moment, Andrew worried that his sunburn might kill the mood. He flipped Jorge off. “It’ll be dark, smartass.”
The car rumbled off the crab grass and away from the lake.
Andrew’s phone chimed with a notification, so he reached for it.
“Come on, man. You’re driving,” Jorge said.
“I still have to shower.” Andrew went to his messages. “Gotta let her know.”
Jorge grappled for the device. “Let me do it.”
Andrew tried to get it back, cringing at the thought of his friend reading through the mushy message exchange with Adriana.
The cell went airborne.
As Andrew’s attention followed the landing phone, he didn’t notice the traffic light turning red.
Andrew looked up. Unable to stop, he gunned it through the light. Another car in the intersection rammed into their vehicle, sending them spiraling across the road. The tires squealed. A whir of trees and buildings beyond the car windows seemed to pass at lightning speed and slow motion at the same time. Andrew tugged at the steering wheel, vying for control until they smashed into a light pole. The front end crumpled like tissue paper, a stench of motor oil filling the air.
Pieces of the windshield went flying. Andrew’s head smacked against the car’s interior. Sparkling stars flooded his vision. The side of his skull felt like it had been hit with a bat.
Blood spattered the dashboard. Andrew was afraid to look beside him, but made himself do it. Jorge’s head rested against the passenger window, his face sliced up and unrecognizable, a huge glass shard poking out from his cheek.
Andrew fumbled frantically for his cellphone in his pockets, between the seat, on the floorboards, until he found it wedged between his legs.
With shaky fingers, he dialed 911.
“State your emergency.”
Before he could get any words out, the phone slipped from his hands and he lost consciousness.
Blips of blood red, flashes of green and silver, and a screeching sound surfaced in Andrew’s mind as he woke. His eyes adjusted to the dark room. There were no basketball trophies and his poster of Kobe Bryant wasn’t on the wall. Unease shot through him. He tried to turn his head, but the tubes in his nose and the neck brace arrested him. Looking down, he spotted the IV in his hand. There was a steady beep of his heart beat being monitored. It smelled like someone had spilled a vat of hand sanitizer.
Shit, what happened?
Andrew’s clouded mind yielded no memories. His back and head were sore.
The chair by the window was empty.
A phone on the side table was just out of reach. Andrew didn’t know any numbers from memory anyway. He scanned the room’s surfaces as much as he could for his cellphone. Nothing.
There had to be a nurse around—somebody. Maybe in the hall? He tried moving his legs in an effort to get up. It felt like a million needles pricked him. Lifting his arms, they smarted with sharp pain.
Sighing, Andrew let his body go limp. The hospital bedding clung to his clammy skin.
The television mounted above the bed flickered on in a flurry of electronic snow. Shhhhhhh… An image of him and Jorge fishing by the neighborhood lake appeared on the television. They were sipping the Budweisers they snuck from Jorge’s fridge. Andrew blinked, not sure of what he saw. And then the monitor returned its show of fuzzy nothingness.
I must be on some serious drugs.
He was frustrated that recalling being at the lake didn’t explain anything. Jorge had to know what happened—or maybe Adriana. That’s right. We were supposed to go to the movies. That night he was going to tell her he loved. Where is she?
Andrew felt abandoned. He anxiously wiggled his fingers and toes. Someone in the hospital had to be able to help him understand what he was doing here.
What time is it?
He yelled again. “Hello?!”
A muffled, “Shut up!” came through the wall.
One of the nurses leapt into the room. “It’s okay,” she whispered. Then she increased the dose of something plugged into his arm.
Everything went black.
There was a shadow reclined by the window. The chair suddenly turned and slid across the floor. It scooted closer and closer. Andrew’s gut tightened. His heart galloped a mile a minute. The figure came into better view. Whoever it was wore jeans, black Nikes, and a black hoodie shrouding the face.
“Jorge?” Andrew asked.
The person slowly rose up to stand, then pushed back the hood. There was no face, only a slab of flesh. Andrew’s stomach lurched up into his throat. He swallowed hard, tearing the tubes and the IV from his body, throwing the bedding back as the thing’s hand reached for him. Andrew thought he might have a heart attack. He couldn’t breathe. The rail on the side of the bed imprisoned him. Just as he got ready to hurdle himself over the metal bars, the mattress violently shook. The entire frame rattled and squeaked as it jumped and crashed against the linoleum.
Andrew opened his eyes, gasping for air. The bed settled to the floor.
“Honey, you alright?” his mother asked, springing up from the chair. Mrs. Walker rushed to her son’s side. After she surveyed the tangled mass of dangling tubes, she pressed the button on the wall.
A middle-aged nurse bounded onto the scene, swiftly reattaching Andrew to the medical apparatuses. “We might have to restrain you while you sleep. You can’t keep doing this.” Her voice was smooth and calm, instead of chiding. She turned to Mrs. Walker. “Let me know if you need anything. The doctor will be in shortly.”
Andrew’s mom smiled. Once the nurse left, Mrs. Walker took her son’s hand.
“Mom, what happened? What am I doing here?” he asked.
“There, there. Just rest. We can talk about that later.” She pulled an envelope from the pocket of her khaki pants. Her eyes watered. “I’ve been waiting for you to wake so I could give you this.”
The letter had already been open, his mother breaking a minor law to satisfy her undying curiosity. Andrew unfolded the paper. “I got in?” He pinched his arm to make sure he was awake.
“Yes, honey! Your dad would be so proud.” She squeezed his hand.
Andrew remembered being ten-years-old, playing basketball in the driveway, dribbling around his dad in circles. “You keep this up, son, and you’ll be playing for the Blue Devils in no time!” That had become Andrew’s dream—to be a starter for that winning team. Each time he watched a game, it was a tribute to his father and all the basketball they’d cheered on together. Now, he’d have to get in the mindset of going off to North Carolina.
“Where’s my phone? I’ve gotta tell Jorge and Adriana.” Why aren’t they here? He wasn’t sure where they’d be attending school next year or if they’d all still keep in touch. Until now, he hadn’t thought much about that. Hopefully, it would work itself out.
His mother’s expression was grim. She gazed at the shiny floor. “You need to rest.”
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
The nurse came in with breakfast. She pushed the mini-table on wheels into place, and put the food tray down. “Enjoy.”
Andrew could smell the toast and the rubbery-looking scrambled eggs, even though they were probably already cold. Almost as if she had never been there, the nurse was gone.
“I’m going to get something to eat. You want anything else?” Mrs. Walker asked.
“No, Mom. Just some answers.” Andrew removed the foil from the orange juice and drank.
She tried to smile as she walked away, but it was more of a wince.
Adriana greeted Mrs. Walker in the doorway.
Standing next to the hospital bed, Adriana’s eyes were wide. “Oh, baby.” She leaned over and grabbed Andrew’s cheeks, kissing him.
The taste of her mouth made him feel so alive. He had a flash of her on the day they went to the beach. After loosening the towel around her, his fingers fumbled to undo her top. Seeing the wounded look in her eyes, he realized he wanted more from her than just getting into her bikini bottoms. His lips had gone to her forehead. He was almost embarrassed that this is where his thoughts went.
His breath hissed through the breathing tubes, so Adriana drew back. “Am I hurting you?”
“No, babes.” He wanted to wrap his arms around her, pulling her to him, but thought of all the medical equipment. “I’m so glad you’re here.” Should I say it now? He decided against it, fearing that an ‘I love you’ would seem random.
“I’m so happy you’re okay.” She took his hand. “How are you feeling?”
“Me, too.” She put her hand on his leg. “I was so worried when you didn’t make it to the movie. For a minute, I thought you hated me.”
“That’s silly.” I could say it now. The words weren’t ready to come out. “How’s Jorge? That lucky bastard is probably doing better than me.”
Tears welled in Adriana’s eyes. Her lip quivered. She tightened her hand on Andrew’s leg. “Your mom didn’t tell you?”
“No…that can’t be.” Andrew’s heart seemed to stop beating. A sudden void consumed him. His throat moistened with repressed tears.
She nodded, covering her mouth.
Andrew wouldn’t let himself believe it. Once he got out of this bed, he’d march up to Jorge’s front door. His best friend would be there like always. Saturday they’d go fishing. The bait shop would finally have live shrimp. They’d catch a whole school of fish.
Guilty as Cell
You can find “Guilty as Cell” in “The Horror Zine Magazine, Spring 2017.” Since 2009, The Horror Zine has published exceptional horror fiction, amazing poetry, and artwork by emerging talent and today’s leading authors.